Review Of Goosebumps

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Telling someone that you grew up on Goosebumps won’t exactly give away your age. R.L. Stine has been writing these slim, preteen potboilers for so long now that his fan base spans multiple generations; if you were a kid anytime between the early ’90s and this past summer, you might have memories of tearing through one of his junior horror yarns. You’d also fall somewhere in the range of demographics courted by the newest TV version of those books, a 10-episode series arriving on Disney+ and Hulu this month. Following the supernatural happenings experienced by a group of suburban teenagers and their parents, the show aims for some sweet spot between current trends and ’90s nostalgia, as if hoping to capture the interest of anyone who ever read past the colorful cover of one of Stine’s colorfully titled tales of monsters in small-town America.

The first episode begins in 1993, with Kurt Loder on a TV and the melancholy strum of R.E.M.’s “Drive” on a boombox. (As in another recent Stine adaptation, Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy, expensive radio hits set the retro scene.) A teenage boy, Harold Biddle (Ben Cockell), dies in a fire, the flames releasing a cheesy skull-faced specter into the evening air. Only later will we get the full story, a tamer variation on Freddy Krueger’s origins. Suffice to say, Harold will soon make like the bucket hat and mount a comeback.

Flash forward to present day. The ghost’s target is an eclectic ensemble cast consisting entirely of high-school friends from various ethnicities placed within Port Lawrence—a fictional harbor town—all coming together at an event taking place at Harold’s former residence characterized by sinister ingredients typical in most Goosebumps tales; haunted masks possessive cameras and jars filled with worms among others. Although characters are played by actors easily noticeable to be in their mid-20s, they are all virgins and abstain from substance abuse as most younger kids Stine wrote about. It’s a vision of teen life safe for a Scholastic (and Disney) audience.

However, looking beyond the patheticness of its special effects, this is not much like the true ‘90s Goosebumps show, a low-budget after-school anthology that brought many of Stine’s 100-some page reads to life. The first Goosebumps film was also directed by Rob Letterman who along with having an amusingly hammy Jack Black playing Stine himself. However, the new series is entirely different from that hyperactive Jumanji knock-off. Accordingly, whatever it was originally has been stretched into something sprawling and soapy about teenagers with hidden family secrets and no sex that was once made from words on pages being turned over in one go. Stranger Things seems to be too much of an influence here though: not Stephen King but his equally well-known colleague who has always sought to imitate him in writing for children.

The show’s story line follows Stine for some time by pulling from his early list of bestselling books as each character stumbles into a different supernatural predicament inspired by the books. They include evil lookalikes, body-swap mischief, and film about repeating one day all over again called Groundhog Day (1993) with a take-off on Tremors (1990). Letterman and co-creator Nicolas Stoller (The Muppets, Neighbors), try to relate the paranormal happenings with the teenagers’ personal issues: an online troll (Ana Yi Puig) who transforms into an actual one; a young daredevil (Will Price) who protects himself from emotional trauma but becomes literally unkillable; a football star (Zack Morris) whose game decides everything is haunted by glimpses of disaster-to-come captured in Polaroid snapshots. The cast is earnest and likable – part Breakfast Club, part Scooby Gang.

As Goosebumps increasingly delves into the buried transgressions of the children’s parents it loses steam. The plot gets more complicated and driven by an enraged ghost that can possess other people’s bodies, create illusions or banish characters to hand-drawn alternate world. “Like history but like future,” said one of the kids after astral-time travelling escapade. “It’s difficult to put it into words.” She can say that again! The reins are held just barely together by Justin Long as their teacher at Port Lawrence High School in his role filled with notes of comedy, pathos and post-Barbarian villainy.

What made Goosebumps so enjoyable was its simplicity when it came to teenage peril: Each book ended dramatically, making them impossible not to finish once you were hooked on its snappy language. That they didn’t form part of some grand narrative but each stood alone might be partially responsible for their continued popularity. These TV shows however introduced new characters in every episode and so, it was possible for one to join even from the middle. Television is different, and why should we be too respectful towards a bunch of books that were written by the author with an intent of making quick money over the years? Yet his whole body of work – “Monster blood” or evil dummies – could hardly serve as a foundation for a sprawling YA saga.

However, there may still have been teenagers who got caught up in all this melodrama. Who doesn’t know what it is like when parents screw things up for their kids? Nothing else on the series will make you feel older than knowing that people who read Goosebumps in its early days are now aged enough to have children reading them. It’s enough to make you feel like those skeletons barbecuing on the cover of Say Cheese and Die!


Following a nostalgic 1990s anthology show and two not quite faithful recent Jack Black films; Goosebumps has returned to TV screens as a teen soap opera which incorporates some supernatural mumbo jumbo from R.L Stine’s best-selling kids’ lit series into its story about high schoolers who are haunted by a vengeful Gen X ghost. The acting performances are adorable (particularly Justin Long), and there is some fun in how Rob Letterman and Nicholas Stoller reinvent different cursed cameras and haunted masks. However, Stine’s work does not fit seamlessly into this sort of Stranger Things style streaming melodrama; some of the adolescent playfulness gets lost in translation.

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